Case of the Bazhenovs and Others in Yelizovo

Case History

In 2018, in Yelizovo, Snezhana and Konstantin Bazhenov, both teachers, as well as widowed pensioner Vera Zolotova, were detained, their houses were searched, and a few days later they had to sign a recognizance agreement. The Investigative Committee equated the holding of joint meetings for worship to illegal activity. In September 2020, the court gave each of them a 2-year suspended sentence. The court of appeal upheld this decision, but the court of cassation returned the case for retrial to the territory court. In January 2022, it acquitted the believers, but the prosecutor’s office achieved that the verdict was overturned in the RF Supreme Court, and the case was returned to the appeal stage, and later the courts of cassation supported the verdict of a 2-year suspended sentence.

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    August 17, 2018

    Investigator D.M. Petukhov makes a decision to initiate a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 282. 2 in relation to Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov and Vera Zolotova.

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    August 19, 2018

    The security forces are searching the homes of several residents of Yelizovo, including the apartment of Vera Zolotova, who is visiting her acquaintances at that moment. 9 people, including the Bazhenovs' 17-year-old daughter, are taken to the Investigative Committee for questioning. The Bazhenovs and Vera Zolotova were detained as suspects and placed in a temporary detention facility.

    Authorities conduct interrogations of believers and their young children.

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    August 21, 2018

    Snezhana Bazhenova and Vera Zolotova are released from the temporary detention facility. Konstantin Bazhenov's detention is extended until 18.10.2018.

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    August 22, 2018

    The Yelizovsky District Court recognizes the search in Vera Zolotova's apartment as legal.

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    August 23, 2018

    Konstantin Bazhenov is filing an appeal against the court's decision to arrest him.

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    August 24, 2018

    Bazhenova and Zolotova are being prosecuted. Both women are chosen as a preventive measure in the form of a written undertaking not to leave. Bazhenova and Zolotova are being interrogated as accused.

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    August 27, 2018

    A search is being conducted in the apartment of Marina Eliseeva. Not only Marina is being interrogated, but also her minor daughter.

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    August 29, 2018

    The Kamchatka Regional Court releases Konstantin Bazhenov from custody.

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    August 30, 2018

    The investigator chooses Konstantin Bazhenov as a preventive measure on his own recognizance.

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    August 31, 2018
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    August 30, 2019

    The indictment of the prosecutor's office is ready for the case to be brought to court.

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    September 11, 2019

    The case was transferred to the Yelizovsky District Court for consideration by Judge Yana Konysheva.

    The case is assigned the number 1-403/2019.

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    October 24, 2019

    The hearing was postponed until 07.11.2019 to familiarize the defense with the case materials.

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    November 7, 2019

    In the Yelizovsky District Court, a court hearing is held under the chairmanship of Judge Y. A. Konysheva, in which the prosecution announces the indictment, and the defense petitions for the return of the case to the prosecutor. The next meeting is scheduled for 14.11.2019.

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    November 12, 2019
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    November 14, 2019

    The Yelizovsky District Court returned the criminal case to the prosecutor's office. The reasons for this decision will be clear as soon as the text of the resolution becomes available. As a rule, the court returns the case to the prosecutor's office if the prosecution has not collected sufficiently convincing grounds for the trial.

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    January 9, 2020

    The Kamchatka Regional Court reverses the decision of the Yelizovsky District Court to return the case to the prosecutor. This means that the criminal case against the Bazhenovs and 73-year-old Vera Zolotova is again transferred to the Yelizovsky District Court for consideration on the merits.

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    March 4, 2020

    The Yelizovsky District Court is considering the merits of the case against the Bazhenovs. The presiding judge is Yulia Piskun, the prosecutor is Artur Adamko.

    S.V. Moskal, a witness for the prosecution, is being questioned. He explains that he came to meetings of believers and secretly recorded them using video and audio recording tools. After leading questions from the prosecutor, Moskal began to unreasonably call meetings of believers meetings of the "local religious organization" (LRO) of Jehovah's Witnesses. It is the continuation of the activities of the banned LRO that the accusation is blamed on believers.

    The defendants and the defense expressed their disagreement with the testimony of the prosecution witness, since the LRO is a legal entity, and not a group of people enjoying the constitutional right to freedom of religion.

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    March 10, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The hearing of the criminal case of the Bazhenov spouses continues. Witnesses are questioned, material evidence is examined, and the case materials are announced.

    Prosecution witness D. N. Kalinova, a school teacher of history and social studies, is being interrogated. One of the defenders asks to point to the accused. The witness points to a free listener sitting at the end of the hall, who looks completely different from Bazhenov. Bazhenov asks the witness a question, in response the witness turns to him: "Dear lawyer." At the end of the interrogation, the judge introduces the real Bazhenov to the witness with a smile.

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    March 11, 2020

    The testimony of the prosecution witness Z. E. Tarabarina, born in 1935, compiled by the investigator during the preliminary investigation, is announced. The witness stresses several times that the testimony was recorded incorrectly and explains that she was forced to sign a protocol that she did not read.

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    March 16, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    A prosecution witness is being questioned. She is asked to point to the defendant Vera Zolotova. The witness cannot recognize the defendant. The prosecutor asks the believer to stand up, calling her by name and patronymic. Now the witness "admits" that it was Zolotova who came to her house to talk about God. The court examines material evidence, in particular films of Jehovah's Witnesses.

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    March 18, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The materials of operational-search activities, in particular, recordings of meetings of Jehovah's Witnesses, are being studied. The defense files a motion to exclude a biased religious examination. Prosecutor Roman Mishchenko objected: "The investigation established that Orthodoxy is one of the religions that tolerate representatives of other religions, which distinguishes it from the doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses." The defense criticizes the position of open religious discrimination on the part of the state prosecutor. The court rejects the petition to exclude the examination.

    The defense submits a motion to summon witnesses, including K. V. Zhovtina, who participated in the search in the homes of believers, helping the investigator Petukhov D. M. to draw up and print protocols. As it became known, Zhovtina studied with Petukhov and he promised her employment in exchange for cooperation. The court grants the request.

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    April 8, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    Due to the epidemiological situation, the court postpones the hearing to June 1.

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    June 1, 2020

    The meeting was adjourned again. Upcoming hearing dates: July 28 and 29, August 3 and 4.

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    July 28, 2020 Hearing in a court of the first instance

    The defense submits a motion to dismiss the case and attach the Opinion of the UN Working Group. The court attaches the Opinion to the case file.

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    July 29, 2020

    State prosecutor Artur Adamko files an objection to the motion. The court refuses to terminate the criminal case.

    Vladimir Kurpas, who participated in the search of the defendants on August 19, 2018 as a witness, is being interrogated.

    According to Part 1 of Article 60 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Russian Federation, "a witness is not an interested person" and "employees of executive authorities empowered to carry out operational-search activities and (or) preliminary investigation cannot be called as witnesses."

    In 2016-2017, Kurpas had a professional internship in law enforcement. During searches of believers, he was directly involved in investigative actions: he helped to draw up and print a protocol, adding a list of seized items to it under dictation. To date, Kurpas works as a senior investigator in the same SO that conducted the search. The witness explains his cooperation with law enforcement agencies by the fact that "after the search, he became interested in the work of an investigator, and therefore he began to often come to the investigation department."

    The Court attaches to the case another Decision of the UN Working Group and examines the written materials of the case, including linguistic expertise, as well as material evidence.

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    July 30, 2020

    The court is interrogating the following witness – Kristina Zhovtun. She points out that Kurpas invited her to take part in the search, but finds it difficult to answer whether Kurpas was the second witness. Since 2019, Zhovtun has been working in the National Guard.

    The defence shall file motions to exclude evidence and to clarify the charges, as well as challenge the judge. All applications are rejected.

    Konstantin Bazhenov testifies to the court.

    The next meetings are scheduled for August 3 and 4, 2020 at 10:00 a.m. The defendants Snezhana Bazhenova and Vera Zolotova are scheduled to testify. On August 4, the debate of the parties will take place.

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    September 21, 2020 Prosecutor requested punishment

    In the Yelizovsky District Court of the Kamchatka Territory, the prosecutor is requesting 600,000 rubles as a fine for the Bazhenovs, as well as 400,000 rubles for a fine for the elderly Vera Zolotova. The believers do not admit guilt in extremism and ask for their acquittal.

    "I ask you to allow me to continue to enjoy the rights guaranteed by Articles 28 and 29 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, namely: to gather peacefully and openly with friends to read the Bible and sing songs of praise to our God Jehovah," Konstantin Bazhenov said in his last speech .

    His wife, Snezhana, in an appeal to the court recalled that Jehovah's Witnesses were repressed during the Soviet era, but were later rehabilitated.

    "I have the right to have my religious beliefs, live in harmony with them, share them with other people. This right is given to me by God and Article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation," Vera Zolotova said in her last word .

    The verdict is scheduled for September 25.

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    September 25, 2020 First Instance Sentence

    Judge of the Yelizovsky District Court of the Kamchatka Territory Yulia Piskun softens the qualification of the defendants' actions from Part 1 of Article 282.2 to Part 2 of Article 282.2 and renders a verdict: to sentence spouses Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov, as well as 73-year-old Vera Zolotova, to 2 years suspended sentence with a probationary period of 3 years and subsequent restriction of freedom for 6 months.

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    November 17, 2020 Court of Appeal

    The Kamchatka Regional Court denies Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov, as well as Vera Zolotova, their appeal. The sentence of the lower court remains unchanged and comes into force.

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    November 9, 2021

    The Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction is considering a complaint of believers against the appellate ruling of the Kamchatka Regional Court in their case via videoconferencing. The Judicial Collegium, which includes judges S. V. Lyubenko, S. A. Busarov and N. Y. Khromina, cancels the decision of the appellate instance and sends the case for a new appeal consideration by another composition of the court. The Judicial Board calls for consideration of the clarifications of the Plenum of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of October 28, 2021, which ruled that the divine services of Jehovah's Witnesses, their joint rituals and ceremonies do not in themselves constitute a crime under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.

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    January 11, 2022 Court of Appeal

    The Bazhenovs speak at the appeal hearings. The case does not reach the court's decision, since the prosecutor asks for time to prepare his part of the debate. The next hearing is scheduled for January 18. At the same time, an appeal decision may be issued.

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    January 18, 2022 Court of Appeal

    The Kamchatka Regional Court is reconsidering the case of the spouses Bazhenov and Vera Zolotova. Judges D. E. Urban, A. Y. Ivakin and O. F. Slobodchikov found the believers innocent. The verdict shall take effect immediately.

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    June 9, 2022

    The Ninth Court of Cassation of General Jurisdiction (Vladivostok) upholds the appellate acquittal verdict against Konstantin and Snezhana Bazhenov, as well as Vera Zolotova.

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    December 12, 2022
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    December 15, 2022
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    January 31, 2023 Court of Appeal

    Kamchatka Regional Court (Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Leninskaya Street, 52). Time: 14:00.

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    September 15, 2023 Second cassation appeal Suspended sentence